A THEORY OF BEHAVIORAL CONTRAST

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The reinforcers that maintain target instrumental responses also reinforce other responses that compete with them for expression. This competition, and its imbalance at points of transition between different schedules of

The reinforcers that maintain target instrumental responses also reinforce other responses that compete with them for expression. This competition, and its imbalance at points of transition between different schedules of reinforcement, causes behavioral contrast. The imbalance is caused by differences in the rates at which different responses come under the control of component stimuli. A model for this theory of behavioral contrast is constructed by expanding the coupling coefficient of MPR (Killeen, 1994). The coupling coefficient gives the degree of association of a reinforcer with the target response (as opposed to other competing responses). Competing responses, often identified as interim or adjunctive or superstitious behavior, are intrinsic to reinforcement schedules, especially interval schedules. In addition to that base-rate of competition, additional competing responses may spill over from the prior component, causing initial contrast; and they may be modulated by conditioned reinforcement or punishment from stimuli associated with subsequent component change, causing terminal contrast. A formalization of these hypotheses employed (a) a hysteresis model of off-target responses giving rise to initial contrast, and (b) a competing traces model of the suppression or enhancement of ongoing competitive responses by signals of following-schedule transition. The theory was applied to transient contrast, the following schedule effect, and the component duration effect.